IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

What's New in Digital Equity: Gigi Sohn Withdraws as FCC Nominee

Plus, more about Kansas' $15 million of federal funding for digital equity; U.S. senators reintroduce digital equity legislation, $180 for digital equity heading to libraries, and more.

The entrance to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission building in Washington, D.C.
The entrance to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission building in Washington, D.C.
Shutterstock/Mark Van Scyoc
This week in “What’s New in Digital Equity” — our weekly look at government digital equity and broadband news — we have a number of interesting items, which you can jump to with the links below:


Gigi Sohn, who has languished as President Biden's nominee for the fifth Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner seat for 20 months, has asked to be withdrawn from the process.

With only four of five commissioner positions filled, the FCC is currently split evenly along party lines, meaning there is some degree of inherent deadlock in what the group can accomplish. This gridlock comes as the federal government is investing a historic amount of money in broadband and digital equity. While those investments have drawn some bipartisan support, experts say leaving the FCC deadlocked for the foreseeable future has the potential to be an obstacle toward ensuring that the equitable high-speed Internet that many elected officials say they support is actually achieved.

Sohn, a well-known consumer advocate in the digital inclusion and broadband space who has worked for the FCC in the past, elaborated on her decision in a public letter to Biden, noting "I could not have imagined that legions of cable and media industry lobbyists, their bought-and-paid-for surrogates, and dark money political groups with bottomless pockets would distort my over 30-year history as a consumer advocate into an absurd caricature of blatant lies."

Sohn withdrawing from the process has sparked an impassioned reaction from digital inclusion and equity leadership groups across the country. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance, specifically, called it simply "awful news" in a Tweet. (Zack Quaintance)


As Government Technology reported from last week's Net Inclusion event in San Antonio, Kansas is poised to receive $15 million from the federal government specifically for digital equity. That news was announced by a representative from the federal government at the event, and now the state has released its own announcement about the news.

You can find Kansas' full announcement online now, noting that the money "will support equal access to high-speed Internet, provide devices to under-served Kansans, and expand digital skills training for communities across Kansas."

“It’s not enough to expand high-speed Internet across Kansas — we must also show Kansans of all ages and backgrounds how to make the Internet a useful tool in their everyday lives,” Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said in an accompanying statement. “These funds will provide the devices and skills training to help every Kansan benefit from our investments to make high-speed Internet available in their local communities.” (Zack Quaintance)


Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., and Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., led the reintroduction of the Digital Equity Foundation Act last week, legislation that would establish a nonprofit foundation to channel public and private investments toward digital equity and literacy.

“The Digital Equity Foundation Act will establish a powerful new tool that addresses these historical access barriers and lifts up underserved communities,” Matsui said in the announcement.

The foundation, which would be run by a board of experts, would supplement the work of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Federal Communications Commission in this space. (Julia Edinger)


Public libraries are essential to closing the digital divide, and this week, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) announced it has awarded $180 million in grants to each state and U.S. territory. These grants have previously been used to address specific local needs, including hiring digital literacy trainers in rural Ohio libraries and expanding Wi-Fi reach to parking lots and outside areas in Washington libraries.

IMLS has analyzed states’ five-year plans and has predicted significant investments in workforce training, reading, library services for individuals who are blind and print-disabled, and broadband.

These grants, which represent the largest source of federal funding support for library services, include a base amount with a population-based supplemental amount. The base amount this year is $1 million. More information about the uses of IMLS funds by states can be found on the IMLS website. (Julia Edinger)


The federal government also announced during Net Inclusion that it was seeking public input on how to structure the $2.7 billion digital skills and devices program that it was funding as part of the digital equity commitment within the bipartisan Infrastructuve Investment and Jobs Act.

That announcement was originally made at the conference during a visit from U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and now you can find the official government announcement of the news online here. (Zack Quaintance)


During the 2023 State of the Net Conference, an annual event hosted by the nonprofit Internet Education Foundation, experts discussed the importance of seizing the current funding opportunities to bridge the digital divide because it is a moment that will likely not come again.

In addition, they touched on the need to extend the Affordable Connectivity Program to help ensure no individuals lose access to the Internet — or trust in the government — in its absence.

Finally, the experts discussed the need to leverage partnerships to achieve digital equity, working with trusted community organizations to overcome adoption barriers. The importance of partnerships has been previously discussed by experts in this space as a way to improve connectivity in both rural and urban communities. (Julia Edinger)
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for <i>Government Technology</i>. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.